For Vermont state
entomologist Alan Graham and the bugs he studies, winter is the offseason.
Time to catch up on
organizing a collection of mosquitoes or to identify a bug sent in by a nervous
"Everybody needs an entomologist,"
But this winter is no
vacation for some cold-intolerant invasives. Take the hemlock woolly adelgid--
the aphid-like insects were first spotted in Windham and Bennington counties
back in 2007. They suck the life out of hemlock needles, causing trees to die.
But they can't survive temperatures below minus 5.
"The cold temperature
is impacting populations and yes, it would set it back so our trees will maybe
have enough reprieve in cold years to not have the decline that's been seen in
the very southern part of our country where large mountain ranges have
completely died off," Graham said.
But it won't eradicate
them. Along with being highly successful at reproduction, Graham says they are
also extremely adept at getting around.
"They look for
different transport systems, so birds could be involved in moving insects,
humans could be involved in moving insects," Graham explained.
Other invasives like the
emerald ash borer, which can decimate ash trees, and the Asian longhorned beetle,
which targets sugar maples, have yet to be spotted in Vermont. Both are
considered more resilient to cold and therefore a threat throughout the state
and further to the north.
"If the emerald ash
borer gets into Vermont it has a pretty much unhindered pathway up through the
forest," Graham said. "It would be a shame to lose that
When it comes to other
potentially dangerous insects like ticks and mosquitoes that carry Eastern
equine encephalitis (EEE), Graham says the cold can play a factor, but once
again it's no slam dunk. The mosquito larvae winter over on tree roots, giving
them some protection.
"Most areas of
Vermont, the ticks are going to be insulated by the snow cover and the ticks
will do quite fine," Graham said.
And with most scientists
agreeing that the overall trend is toward warmer winters, all bets are off.
"If it tends toward
warmer, insect ranges from the south are going to more successfully move
north," Graham said.
In the short term, Graham
says some of the answers will be available soon enough: "We'll have a
better idea next spring."
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